Three Reasons Why Transit Ridership Matters

In Athens, most of us drive cars to get everywhere we need to go. Many areas of town are inaccessible except by car; we couldn’t walk or bike there safely even if we wanted. Likewise, bus routes don’t go everywhere we need to go, and they often aren’t on a convenient schedule. This is true despite the enormous benefits we would gain as a society by using alternative transportation more often. It’s our hope that if more people understood the benefits to public and alternative transportation, then public policy would shift in its direction, making it more convenient and attracting new riders.

So what are the benefits of alternative transportation? Why is this so important?

Increased Ridership Benefit #1: Environmental Sustainability

The world is facing a dire situation due to human-caused climate change. Changing our transportation habits is one of the most important things we can do to fight climate change on the individual and local levels. Walking, biking, carpooling and riding the bus can all significantly reduce our carbon footprint.

CO2 emissions from different transportation options.
CO2 emissions from different transportation options. Data from the US Department of Transportation
Private cars, on average, emit almost one pound of carbon dioxide per passenger mile, but about a third of this is saved by switching to bus transit at one-quarter occupancy. A bus at full occupancy emits only 0.18 pounds per passenger mile — an enormous savings. Switching to hybrid electric buses (as Athens is in the process of doing) will save even more.

Given the climate crisis that lies ahead of us, we should be doing anything we can to use our carbon energy resources more efficiently, including riding transit more often.

Increased Ridership Benefit #2: Less Need for Parking and Less Traffic

Athens currently requires a minimum amount of parking to be included in each new development, as do most cities. Yet, covering so much of our most valuable land in concrete causes numerous problems. Urban density and walkability is reduced because buildings must be placed further apart to accommodate the parking lots. Stormwater becomes harder to manage, meaning water pollution and flooding. The heat island effect is increased, meaning higher electricity bills and more power consumed. To top it off, traffic worsens and housing becomes more expensive. All of this is because of requirements for off-street parking.

Encouraging transit use helps reverse all of these problems by reducing the need for parking (although minimum parking requirements would also need to be repealed). It also reduces traffic, meaning fewer headaches, getting to our destinations faster and less wear-and-tear on our roads. Since so much is spent on road maintenance (over $25 million of the recent TSPLOST was consumed by the road repair budget), tempting people out of their cars and on to public transit could be a significant savings to our local government’s budget.

Increased Ridership Benefit #3: Improved Public Health

There were 1,430 traffic fatalities and 19,405 serious injuries in Georgia in 2015, according to GDOT. Traffic accidents were the leading cause of death in people ages 8-24 in 2010 and rank in the top 10 in all age groups except 65+. The cost of our car culture is enormous and can’t be measured only in dollars. Fortunately, the majority of these deaths are preventable. Travel by bus is over 60 times safer than travel by car! As the graph below shows, even when the added danger buses represent to pedestrians and bikers is accounted for, buses are still twice as safe as private cars.

Traffic fatalities based on mode of transportation.
This graph shows traffic accident fatalities by type of vehicle and whether the deaths happen to riders of this vehicle or to pedestrians, bikers or riders in other vehicles.
The health benefits don’t stop there, either. Public transportation is an important contributor to public health because it reduces pollution and encourages exercise. The Victoria Transport Policy Institute did an economic analysis of the health benefits of transit, and found that if a typical American city changed their transit system from average to high quality (more convenient, more frequent service), the health benefits would amount to $355 per person per year! The CDC sites this study as part of their reason for including the improvement of public transportation as one of their HI-5 interventions with the greatest potential for impact on public health.

Alternative transportation saves lives, reduces climate change and promotes social justice

The decisions we make every day, both as individuals and as a society, have a huge impact on all of us in so many different ways. Our car culture is toxic and causes immense harm to the planet and to our health, while at the same time harming our quality of life. It’s also exclusionary to those who can’t afford to be a part of it — those without cars suffer all the harm of this lifestyle but reap none of the benefits. It’s about time we made different choices as a society. Admittedly, our current ways are entrenched and will be difficult to change, but everyone who rides transit, bikes to work, carpools with their coworkers or speaks out in favor of increased transit investment is helping change come about. Let’s all be part of the solution.

Athens for Everyone
January 17, 2018


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